Danielle Binks and #LoveOzYA

SLAV Mornington Peninsula Term 3 Meeting – 7 September 2017

I was a bit late (short-staffed in the library – who’da thunk it!) and missed the intro and preamble (sorry Danielle!). We pick up the story at the point where DB is discussing the US Book Expo (think Bologna – but US).

2014 – There are no women on the YA panel. No PoC either. The YALit community get (understandably) a bit shirty. The #weneeddiversebooks hashtag is started as a way of discussing and highlighting the huge lack of diversity on the panel.

2016 – The organisers flag that they have taken the diversity criticisms on board. The guests are: 18 white men, 12 white women, 1 grumpy cat. Although a minor the improvement, it was noted that the cat gets more airtime than PoC and women. Organisers are amazed that people are still cranky!

In 1985, the CCBC (The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin) conducted its first annual survey of books written by African Americans, prompted by the then-director serving on the Coretta Scott King Award committee. They found that of the “2,500 trade books that were published in 1985, only 18 were created by African Americans”: .0072% of the books published in that year were written by African Americans. WTAF?! (Trust me, I don’t believe it’s any better in Australia!) In more recent years, they have been collecting a wider array of data, and you can check that out on their website (link above).

In 2014, there were 3,500 books published in the US by US authors. They CCBC found that: 85 were written by authors who identified as African Americans, 20 by First Nations peoples, 129 by authors with Asia Pacific heritage, and 59 by Latinos. Even if you add all those authors of colour together, it’s still only .084 of the total number of books published in the US in that year. Not much of an improvement in almost 20 years.

This clearly demonstrates that #weneeddiversebooks is a legitimate cry, and that the publishing industry is slow to change.

A little bit on WeNeedDiverseBooks – they have a website that you should check out, as there are lots of resources, lists, etc, etc, available there. Note that it is US-centric, but still legit.

And talking about hashtags – in 2015 ALIA released lists of the books most borrowed from public libraries (there are issues in this sample, but more on that later). Most of the Top 10 lists had a 50/50 distribution between Australian and OS authors, but the Top 10 Borrowed Books for Young Adults had….drum roll….two Australian authors – Ellie Marney (Every Breath) and Markus Zusak (The Book Thief)!

This gobsmackingly skewed result reverberated around the YALit community, and the hashtag #LoveOzYA was born (I wrote an article about this for CBCA Vic – but they’ve killed it 😦 I resurrected it here!). Anyhoo, the OzYA community made that hashtag go nuts, and started a worldwide discussion about Australian YA.

DB believes that ‘Australian’ is a sensibility, not a setting. And I agree with that. It includes our vernacular – Vegemite (not Marmite or Promite), milk bar (not corner store or bodega), but is also reflected in our attitudes – for example, Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow addresses our fears of being rejected (in comparison, the US writers are addressing the idea of being ejected).

Continuing with the results of the Most Borrowed books, in 2016 and 2017 there were no Australian authors on the YA list. When you look at the titles on the list, it’s clear that they all had the benefit of huge film advertising budgets – something that Australian titles do not have access to. In addition, the stats only reflect the books that have been borrowed, not who actually borrowed them. Danielle speculated that the books could have been borrowed by adults for young people, who may not have actually even read the book, or even for themselves – and she made reference to the audience in the room, whom she assumes are like her: an adult YA reader who has never stopped reading YA.

Begin, End, Begin, the anthology that Danielle edited and contributed a story to,  aims to present a diverse range of authors and genres to a YA audience. One of the driving ideas behind the compilation is to present a collection of stories that have a uniquely Australian sensibility and place. Imagine the YA landscape without Puberty Blues – surely a prime example of ‘Australia’, and a book that shone a light on a burgeoning feminist understanding, where girls began to assert their rights as people.

Danielle asked – Where is the crossover between WNDB and #LoveOzYa? She feels that both are working towards equality , inclusivity and diversity.

Part of understanding this inclusiveness is working to mark your collection reflect the variety of cultures and people within your school. At Reading Matters 2017, Emma White, Children’s and Youth Services Librarian at Yarra Libraries, spoke frankly about how she put Yarra’s YA collection through a diversity audit – and chucked out thousands of books. What she didn’t expect was the response from young people. Once the collection was cleared of its old and out-dated fiction, the borrowing stats went through the roof. Patrons could see the collection, and, more importantly, see themselves on the shelves.

Danielle encouraged the audience to do the following:

  • Ditch your book subscription – regardless of which company you are with;
  • Get educated about where to buy diverse books: for Indigenous books try Magabala, BackRoom Press, Australian Studies Press, and the Small Press Network;
  • Check out LoveOzYA website for lists, events, posters and more;
  • Stella Schools, run by the Stella Prize committee, is all about creating gender parity in publishing, and has resources for getting more books by and about women into schools, and they also have an ambassadors program where authors visit schools to talk about the importance of hearing from everyone in the community;
  • The VCAA list was mentioned, but I think that this is a furphy. A quick look at the 2017 lists revealed that the English list has 18 texts, of which 8 are by women and 10 by men. the EAL list is 50/50 in a list that has 16 texts;
  • Lastly, Danielle advises to buy from local/ Australian booksellers – Farrell’s, Robinsons, Dymocks, Booktopia, Reading, Beaumaris Books, etc. This benefits the community twice.

The final part of the talk was devoted to talking about graphic novels and comics. Danielle has been in contact with the owner of The Comic Place in Playne Street, Frankston, who is keen to work with schools o the Peninsula to bring good quality comix to young people.

A recommended new release with Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna The Mad, through BOOM! Studios, and places that you can go to for comics and related info, both online and in person, are: The Hawkeye Initiative; Eisner Studios; Boom! Studios, and Graus Comix by Robinsons, Minotaur, there are heaps.

Lastly, don’t discount where your young adult readers are getting their stories from. Fan Fiction is huge, and YA readers and writers are often immersed in this self-publishing culture. Embrace the reading wherever you find it – you might be surprised.

And remember that, even though we all love ourselves some YA, it’s not written for us. If you’re at a launch, signing or event that is primarily aimed at a YA audience – get out of the way, and let your mantra be #teenstothefront.